BY CRAIG DALTON
A piano player walks into a guitar show. That sounds like the classic setup for a vaudeville joke, doesn’t it? Decidedly not. The annual Artisan Guitar Show this past April featured the fine craftwork of dozens of luthiers, guitar display furniture makers and luthier-associated suppliers, plus a world-famous songwriter who has written some of pop music’s most recognizable tunes, on piano.
Held each year in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Artisan Guitar Show displays the fine work of skilled masters such as John Osthoff Guitars, Bourgeois Guitars, Solid Ground Stands and many others. This year, megastar songwriter and pianist Jimmy Webb held court in a master class on songwriting and performance, along with other clinics, including one with ace Nashville session guitarist Brent Mason. “Glen Campbell recorded 99 of my songs,” Webb told an overflow crowd in his afternoon session, that statement alone giving him cred with an excited, guitar-focused audience. Most of those songs did not go on to be hits, but those that did are iconic and timeless, including “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman.”
That evening, Webb performed a concert of his multi-Platinum hits that have been recorded by a generation of celebrity performers. Webb’s show was a great treat for an audience that came to Harrisburg to shop for luthier-crafted instruments and enjoy all-weekend-long performances by fingerstyle, classical, jazz, folk, and singer-songwriter guitarists. “Campbell had a rare five-octave vocal range,” said Webb during his show, asking the audience to attempt the same feat by demonstrating the distance between tones in a singalong, with a predictable cacophonous noise emanating from the crowd by the fourth note. A great evening unfolded, as Webb spun tales of the studio and road between performing some of his hits.
Brent Mason is among the elite of the Nashville studio scene, being a first-call guitarist in great demand in the city’s renowned recording facilities. An overflow crowd at his clinic learned much from Mason as he demonstrated signature guitar licks and detailed how he’s worked with some of the top recording artists in the world. Mason, who won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Artist, is a premier picker and has a major following among guitarists. After gaining a big break being invited to play on Chet Atkins’ album Stay Tuned, Mason continued building his career by working with many more top names in the studio, especially modern country performers wanting more traditional guitar sounds on their tracks. “I wasn’t a fan of the road,” said a friendly and engaging Mason during his class. He went on to explain how he had to develop both his chops and his business skills in order to earn work closer to home and family, instead of embarking on a career of endless touring.
This year’s Artisan Guitar Show was a great success, with fantastic guitar and accessory makers, super-talented musicians, and an entertaining lineup of events that had something for everyone—even piano players. Save next year’s date of April 3–5, 2020.